The Maze Of Moral Relativism

Participants:

alice_icon.gif cassandra_icon.gif ryans_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

adam_icon.gif caspar_icon.gif young-deveaux2_icon.gif ryans4_icon.gif siobhan_icon.gif

Scene Title The Maze of Moral Relativiism
Synopsis At the request of Director Zimmerman, Benjamin Ryans and SESA Agent Cassandra Baumann delve into the mysteries of the Company's past.
Date March 14, 2018

Situations like this don’t happen often.

The ruins of the Bronx rest outside the relative security of the New York City Safe Zone. Crumbling brick and concrete buildings rise up from sunken streets like loose teeth in a broken jaw. The toppled and fire-gutted remnants of this borough stands in plain view of the looming rust-streaked concrete walls and watchtowers of the Manhattan Exclusion Zone. At night, it looks like a black castle on a far and foreboding island, like something out of a storybook where the heroes would be told you do not simply walk into the Exclusion Zone.

Tonight, no one will be going there. The construction equipment has been at work in the Bronx for seven hours already, backhoes lifting blocks of concrete, workers with chisels and jackhammers breaking away stone and hauling huge pieces of debris up into heaping piles stacked ten feet high. A dozen Military Police observe a wide perimeter around the construction lights, where reserve trucks are parked, backup generators hum, and electricity flows to the bright lights that illuminate the ruins being excavated and the flurries of snow whipping about in the cold wind.

Once, this pile of rubble was a building. Situated at the mouth of the Locust Point Marina, just off of I-295. It was the Primatech Paper Research Facility, also known as the global headquarters of The Company. The name is a household one now — an organization as reviled as it is storied — for their role in the Midtown explosion, the despoiling of a nation, the bankrupting of America’s last vestiges of dignity and honor. Today, however, isn’t about that part of the past. But it is, without a doubt, about the past.

Among the myriad construction workers gathered here stands a woman who looks out of place among the scenery. Dressed in shades of gray and black, complementary to the concrete and brick rubble across the night landscape, Alice Shaw is a pragmatic and severe shadow. Her blonde hair pinned up and eyes appraising on the ground being unearthed. Alice clutches something small and knit in one hand, a scrap of fabric rolled between her fingers.

Beside her stands a tall, looming shadow in the face of this exhumation. Benjamin Ryans worked for the company for decades, followed his orders unquestioningly… until one day, he didn’t. Neither he nor Alice have any love for the Company. Both were, in a roundabout way, its victims. But sometimes, for closure, victims need to dig up the past.


The Ruins of the Bronx

8:37 pm


“I appreciate you coming out here, Benjamin. It felt wrong to do this without someone from the old guard here. Sabra… preferred not to be present.” Blue eyes shift to Ryans, and the length and breadth of time’s twists are leveled on his shoulders. “I appreciate you sharing with us what you knew, and… I promise, this agent we’re waiting for? It will be the peace of mind you need. One way or the other.”

From between a rank of parting Military Police, a slimmer shadow approaches in the night from an escort Jeep parked on the edge of the perimeter. Alice turns, the wind picking up around her ever so subtly as she sets icy eyes on the young woman approaching. “Aha, here she is now.

It’s not often this happens indeed.

With the darkness of a cool spring night rolling in, the last place Cassandra wanted to be was poking through the ruins of The Company in the middle of the exclusion zone, but the orders were clear. As a SESA agent, one with a couple of years of experience despite her young age, she was accustomed to doing things that she would rather not when asked. Duty and Loyalty to SESA was one of the things she had pride in, and as she rumbled through the ruins in a jeep that had seen better days, she wondered what exactly she was getting herself into.

Nothing she couldn’t get out of. That’s was the common mantra she kept telling herself as the pillars and columns of the Primatech Paper Company start to grow in the distance, black against the lighter twilight sky. Before the war, the distance to be covered would take minutes, but now, in the ruins and the darkness, picking around wreckage was rather like threading a needle in the dark - possible, but it took a lot of patience and a steady hand.

The glow from the work lights lit the area as she arrived in the jeep, casting harsh shadows that seemed to hide secrets on top of secrets, promising danger and death for any who strayed too close. “I’ve got it from here. Thanks.” The brunette said to the driver as the jeep pulled to a stop, the back door opening and closing with a metallic thump that echoed off of bullet-marked walls before fading into the background noise of a mostly dead city.

Boots crunching on the cement fragments as she walks, Cassandra approaches the pair standing there, and as she draws closer, she glances from face to face with small movements of her eyes. With the positioning of the light, it’s almost hard to tell that she’s even looking, and as she draws near, it becomes evident that she’s not used to such chilly climate. Wrapped in a thick pea coat with a scarf wrapped around her face, her hands jammed deep into her pockets to keep the heat in, Cassandra pauses near the pair before her hands comes out to pull the scarf away from her mouth so she can speak more clearly.

“Mrs. Shaw? Mr. Ryans? I’m Cassandra Baumann.” She offers a hand to shake, professional. “I understand you’re needing to take a look back and see what went on here?” She glances to the folder under her arm, thoughtfully prepared with what little information SESA had on the area which, sadly, isn’t much. “Have you been briefed on what to expect with me?”

In the former agent’s mind, he’s back in time, standing there before a building whole. However, Benjamin Ryans is not there… He doesn’t wear a trench coat, or his father’s fedora. Remnants of a time long gone, left behind on the shores of an island, along with the bodies of so many friends.

Instead, he stands in a black leather jacket and his graying hair collects the small flakes that sift down from the cloudy sky. He never really thought he’d be back here, but the offer was too good. Lips pressed into a line as he considers the lit construction zone. “Of course,” he finally says to Shaw, his voice rumbles softly, “I owe Sabra, anyhow.”

The agent’s arrival gets a stony unreadable look. They just keep getting younger in his mind. Nothing more than kids. “Miss Baumann,” Ben greets, offering the only hand he has to be shaken, he’s even left the hook at home… he really hates that thing. She may feel like she is being assessed, but then… he once led teams and had to know the people he was working with.

When the wind picks up and lashes one lock of Alice’s hair across her brow, she furrows in in protest and the wind stops entirely. A few more flurries fall, and the temperature rises a handful of degrees to take the bite out of the air. Then, smiling pleasantly, Alice offers a polite not to Cassandra. “I’ve been briefed,” she admits with a coy smile, looking to the construction workers digging through the rubble. Their work has disturbed what must have been a nest of stray cat, sending them scattering into the night with tails in the air.

“I haven’t told Mr. Ryans what to expect, however. I figured that would be best from your mouth to his ears, so to speak. Unless, you’d rather just show rather than tell.” One of Alice’s manicured brows arches at that, then a look to Ryans and back again. “All said, this is likely going to be a taxing enough night for all of us. So I appreciate you both coming out here. This has been a long-overdue procedure, but… we didn’t have the proper tools until now.”

Up by the ruins, there’s a shout from one of the construction workers. Then two more, and finally a foreman comes walking over and gives a wordless thumbs up to Alice. They’d found what they were looking for. Alice raises one finger, indicating that the trio needs a moment, and then turns to look back at Cassandra to see how she weighs in on the choice left in her young hands.

Wordlessly, Cassandra switches hands and shakes the offered one, pumping his arm twice before replacing the folder beneath the crook of her right arm. “A pleasure to meet you both.” She nods to Alice at the sharing of information before turning to Ryans. “It would be better to tell, I think. My ability can be surprising, if you’ve never experienced something like it. The official definition of my ability is Projective Retrocognition.” She pauses, looking to both before continuing her explanation to Ryans directly. “To give you the basics, I hold something in my bare hands or stand somewhere and project the past to everyone in the area, as if they were standing there when the event actually occurred. The images are just echoes - they can’t hurt you, and you can’t affect them in any way. It’s been helpful in investigations and I hope that it can be of help to you as well.”

She looks to the foreman for a moment, then to Ryans and Alice, waiting to be shown where to go to work. She has not asked what they will be looking for, as expectation could taint the vision.

The arrival of the foreman is noted, his gaze moving to look behind the man to the ruins beyond, the narrowing of eyes may be the only clue that Benjamin is anxious to get in there. Find the truth. Or at least just the one.

The older man is silent as he listens to the explanation, head bobbing slowly at key points, eyes shifting back to the young woman. There is no knowing what he is thinking as he does. Once the explanation is complete, he looks thoughtful for a long moment. “I’ve dealt with a few like that, but none with the ability to project it.” Finally, there is a crack in that stone mask, a slight tip at the corner of his mouth. A typical smile for him. “I look forward to seeing your ability in action.”

Expression inscrutably shifting, Alice motions with her head as the foreman waves the trio over. She lets Ryans take the lead, insinuating herself beside Cassandra. “Benjamin already knows the situation we’ll be walking into, but I want to mentally prepare you for what you'll likely be experiencing here. This facility was once home to some of the most dangerous people on the planet, though not all of them were… rightly incarcerated.”

Blue eyes square on Cassandra, briefly, and Alice folds her hands behind her back as she walks. “Level 5 was ultimately used as a black site for enemies of the Company. What we’re looking for is information pertaining to a specific point in time regarding one prisoner who was justifiably held. The first prisoner of Level 5.”

Then, as she looks to Ryans’ back, her tone softens. “Benjamin is just looking for closure. On a specific case, one that I wasn't able to satisfy with incomplete paper records.” As she says that, the trio reaches the edge of the excavation site. Here, a crumbling but mostly intact staircase descends down parallel to a demolished and rubble-filled elevator shaft.

Workers are already descending the stairs, checking for structural weakness and marking safe areas with orange vinyl flags. “Miss Shaw,” the foreman calls out. “We've got everything ready. Level 5 is pretty intact, we've cleared away the upper level rubble so you won't be under anything while you're down there. Follow the flags and make sure you observe proper safety protocols.”

The safety protocols being yellow hard hats handed out to the three.

As they walk, Cassandra makes sure to take note of what is being said, even jotting a few things down in a delightfully quaint notepad she keeps tucked on the inside of her jacket, the pink eraser of her pencil dancing like a bee among flowers as she writes. She’s familiar with the company and the interesting way they decided to keep the country safe. In another world, she might have been one of those trapped in the bottom of level five, held against her will for the foreseeable future for the ‘safety’ of the nation, civil rights be damned. “The visions in level 5 will be….unpleasant, if the stories are true, but necessary for your investigation.” Cassandra’s mouth draws into a tight line as she nods to herself, the folder tucked away inside some massive inner pocket of her coat, the hardhat taken and placed on her head after being adjusted a little to sit properly. “I can’t guarantee that you won’t see things you wish you hadn’t, but I’ll do my best to mitigate the effects. It may take some time for me to get to the right spot as well - I’ll be working off of the vision itself to determine when we are and…” she trails off.

“The stronger the emotions of the place, the more tangents I have to follow.” She finally says, looking to Ryans and Alice. “I can already feel the echoes bubbling up from downstairs.” She leans over to peer down the cleared staircase, looking back at the pair. “This is going to be an interesting evening.”

The hard hat is taken from the worker, the flat stare given could make anyone uncomfortable. Still, without commentary, Benjamin Ryans palms the hard hat and fits it on his head, quite a feat for a man with only one hand. It only needs to pull it forward a little. The stairway is given consideration while he does this.

It is obvious, that the old man is not much of a conversationalist, letting Shaw do the talking of course; only glancing back at the ladies to see if they are ready, before finally taking the first step down. The old wore flooring creaked under his boot heels, even following the flags.

His hand rests on the wall, feeling the texture under his fingers as he descends, but his mind is far below him. Mind lost in a past that was far older than his own body. Conversations and arguments, both, with colleagues long dead… some he help put in the ground. The people he put into cells down here. People that he thought were evil… dangerous.

Of course, now? Would he still think of them in that way? He isn’t so sure.

The stairs down into the ruins of Level 5 are mostly stable, the old metal supports of the broken concrete have only partly rusted through. The explosion that tore through this place years ago, when Mortimer and his gang the Locos ravaged the facility, mostly demolished the upper levels, which then collapsed down into Level 5. By then, though, this building was already a ghost of its former self.

As they follow the flagged path, avoiding wobbling portions of the steps, they arrive in the labyrinthine corridors that once served as windowless prisons for untold number of Evolved captives. Alice pulls a slip of paper from the pocket of her charcoal colored slacks, checking something written on it before folding it closed again and tucking it back in her pocket. She leads the trio ahead, weaving between construction workers still lifting debris out of the way.

Most of the ten-by-ten concrete cells have no doors anymore. Those had collapsed inward to the rubble-filled spaces. On some of the hallway walls Level 5 is stenciled in faded black paint. Even without the use of Cassandra’s ability, Ryans feels like he’s walked straight into the past. Alice stops at one of the cells, looking over to Ryans, then to Cassandra. “This one first. This repayment is for Benjamin’s assistance…” blue eyes square on him for a moment. “Peace of mind, hopefully. About choices made a long time ago.”

Alice steps back, hands folded behind herself. “You’re looking for a moment in time from 2005, likely the most resonant memory then. Ryans was there… as well as a man named Ricardo Silva.” Alice looks back at Ryans, wordlessly, then settles a look back at Cassandra. “Whenever you’re ready, Agent.”

2005. Thirteen years ago. Considering this place has been buried under rubble for a good portion of that time, the echoes should be easy to delve back to. The construction workers hadn't spent enough time here to add too much to the background noise - them being here was like dropping a single drop of ink into a pool. The color is there, but is very faint and is easily overwhelmed by the other things swirling around in the darkness.

Cassandra steps forward, reaching into her pocket for a length of lined silk, about three or four feet long, a cream color that reminds one of a sandy beach, and stands in the doorway of the cell, looking in. Letting out a breath, she turns to the pair. “While I'm tuning in, things will get a little strange. You will see shapes, forms, and figures appear and then vanish like a bubble popping. It'll get dark, too, so find a spot and stay there, preferably with a wall to your back.” She takes the length of cloth and wraps it around her eyes, tying it tightly behind her head before she lowers herself to the battered folding chair that had been placed there for her use. “Range is generally the four walls I'm inside, but if it's really powerful, I can hit the next room.” Cassandra takes a breath and leans back in the chair. “Here we go….”

For the first few moments, nothing happens. The construction workers in the hall can be heard moving debris, a radio playing some Spanish song, tinny in the concrete confines of the cells, echoes, creating a melange or sound that slowly starts to fade away. And then, nothing, the only sound the breathing of the three in the room - yours, hers, his - blending into each other before fading into the oppressive silence while Cassandra starts to weed through the background noise, drifting back. Shapes come into view - indistinct at first - blurs of movement and light that dance at the corners of consciousness before vanishing, as if they never were there. The door of the cell, shattered in the breakout, slithers across the floor and reforms, good as new, set deep in the frame as it opens and closes a thousand times, forms entering and leaving, ghosts of a past long gone.

“Almost there….”. Cassandra murmurs, her voice quiet as the shapes start to congeal, overlapping movements coalescing into something more substantial. A shape forms near the door - Ryans - whole, dressed in the suit he always wore and another shape in the corner, sitting on a bench that crumbled away years ago, looking, the two seemingly in conversation. Disjointed, moving erratically as Cassandra focuses.

The post cognitive straightens in her seat, her shoulders back, the blindfold starting to soak through with a blackish fluid before she sinks down a little, the chair legs scraping on the floor as she scoots back a little, avoiding the movement of one of the shapes. “We’re here….”

It is always unnerving for Ryans to see himself looking older than he is now, the lines of worry and stress. He steps to the side, back lightly pressed up against the wall as figures move. This is what he remembers. It’s fuzzy, but…

“He was a family man with… a dangerous ability.” His blue eyes on that figure. He can almost hear the man’s voice in his head even now.

Thoughtful, Benjamin looks over at the young woman making it all happen. The Company would have loved this ability. He knows it would have been a target on his list for recruiting. How many cases would have been…. With a small shift of his head, shaking the thought from it, he turns back to the two figures.

Without thinking, Ryans speaks up, but only one rumbled word. “Proceed.”

And with that, the show begins.

“Please! Please, man, you can’t do this!

It starts with a voice, one unfamiliar to everyone in the room except Ben Ryans. He has not heard Ricardo Silva’s voice in more than a decade, but even now his pleading is like a knife to the heart. People who have experienced Refrain first-hand would be familiar with the experiences Cassandra Baumann projects, a memory-like experience with vivid sensory input. The retrocognitive’s attention to detail feels artistic, though it is an expression of the past by merit of the psychic impressions in the area around it. Perhaps spatiotemporal in some way, but the science of SLC-Expressive abilities strains already tenuous, bleeding edges of physics.

But what began with a voice, rapidly descends into the vivid hallucinations promised.

A somehow older looking Benjamin Ryans stands in front of the door to a cell on Level 5. Through the view slat, a muscular man with dark skin and a shaved head stares wide eyed at the agent in his sleek black suit. “Please! Please don’t do this t’me! I’ve got two daughters— a third on the fucking way, please man, please! I didn’t mean t’hurt those people!” The Ben Ryans of the past looks down to the floor, brows furrowed and one hand in a pocket of his slacks.

“I believe you,” Ryans murmurs, looking up from his shoes to the man behind the door, viewed in letterbox silhouette. “But you can’t control what it is you do. Those people… they tore each other apart, Ricardo. Imagine if that happened… to someone you cared about.” Creases stretch across the weary agent’s brow, as deep as they do today. “But love doesn’t make you innocent, and it doesn’t change that you’re a risk.”

Ricardo furiously slams his hands into the door. His scream erupts through Level 5. “You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch! You can’t take me away from my girls!” In a flicker, the man’s pupils glow with a red iridescence. Ben can feel anger welling up inside of himself, a slick heat of hatred and frustration that surges in his veins. Adrenaline pounds thick at the back of his skull. He steps back, up against the wall of the corridor, just out of Ricardo’s range. The rage ebbs, the anger subsides.

Please,” Ricardo howls, slamming on the metal door again. “Please don’t leave me here! I’ll— I’ll figure it out! I’ll get better, I promise! Don’t— don’t do this man!” Eyes shifting to the side, Ryans slides away from the wall, slouching further from Ricardo’s door. He hears the slam again, the strangled and desperate cry now no longer even words. Eventually, Ryans slips out of sight, leaving little more than Ricardo’s screams in his wake.

The vision ends, blurring away like so many images projected onto smoke. Alice draws in a slow breath, her gaze fixed on Cassandra rather than Ryans. The corners of her mouth creep up slowly, brows pinch together. She wrings her fingers around the piece of argyle fabric in her hand, and seems pleased with the results. Hearing about the agent’s ability is one thing. Seeing it is entirely something else.

“When you’re ready to go again,” Alice says to both Cassandra and Benjamin. “See if you can go… four years ahead.” Blue eyes settle on Ryans again, but only briefly.

The displayed images surely answer many questions, but cause so many more to come up. That’s the advantage of looking back instead of looking forward - what has happened, by default, has happened, and it’s near impossible to change it after the fact. Cassandra, during Ricardo’s ranting at the door, has stood, moving to stand with her back to the far corner opposite the door, facing the bench, out of the way of the image as he charges back and forth, a man that is exhibiting the qualities of a caged animal which, it seems, is exactly what he has become.

“Yes Ma’am.” Cassandra’s voice is quiet, but Ricardo’s ranting stops, the echoes dying in silence as the scene freezes and then blows away, collapsing on itself as it was made of dust. She reaches out for where the chair was, fumbling a little until she finds it, moving it to the corner where she sits, her blindfold darkened over her eyes, a streak of black dripping down her cheek where it’s quickly daubed away with a handkerchief.

Moving in years is difficult in a room like this, since there are no external clues to gauge what year it is. To solve this, Cassandra starts moving the scene in hops of around six to seven months, landing on the more intense emotional moments. Things like visits by guards, holidays and the like. This much she can do by feel, waiting for Alice or Ryans to say something if she skips past something interesting, backing up the projection to where it starts before playing it forward at a more normal speed. She pauses momentarily on the first Christmas spent alone in this cell - the festive cookie left on the dinner tray by the guards the only thing to reference what part of the year it is, looking at Ricardo, curled on the bench bed, barely covered by a thin blanket. Marks on the walls count the days - three meals equals one slash equals one day, taking up the wall on the back of the cell behind the toilet. Erased one moment and then filling the wall again, unstoppable, until the guards come in again.

The scenes start to coalesce again, the ghosts gathering, as she draws near a moment four years since Ricardo’s initial incarceration. “Here we are, I think…”

Benjamin Ryans watches the scenes in complete silence. A stone statue, devoid of emotion. It is something he has had to do in his everyday life and old habits die hard. That is until Ricardo's eyes turn red, then Ryans hand curls into a fist and his jaw tightens. You never forget when they get at you like it.

But he doesn’t actually speak until everything pauses. “When we found him… The carnage that we walked into….” His jaw works as memories of that crime scene bubble to the surface. “One of the worst I have seen.” He looks over at Alice out of the corner of his eye, though she won’t be able to tell what he is thinking. “It got him marked for Level 5. No chance to… try and hone it.” He looks away again… silent and brooding. He has never been proud of this capture… ever. But unlike Winslow, this one he couldn’t just let slip away in the night. Too many bodies drop when he lost control.

It has still bugged him when he walked away… the scream haunted him, because, “His poor kids never got to know him,” he rumbles softly, before waving Cassandra to proceed.

“I wouldn't be so sure about that, Ben.” Alice’s voice is hushed, and she offers a look to Ryans as the hop-skip of imagery finally settles on something more profound.

Three figures are standing at the door opposite of Ricardo’s, a stern looking woman with long, dark hair in a sleek suit. She’s with a teenage boy with a mop of unkempt hair and a taller more hawkish looking young man, both of whom are in the gray attire of a Level 5 detainee. The brunette walks over, hand on the keypad entry, and types in the access code. The door unlocks with a pop.

Ryans recognizes all three of them. April Silver, Taylor Reed, and Niles Wight. Two of them, their 2009 incarnations, but April a time-traveler from 2019. The story is a familiar one, and the man they're freeing a legend.

”I suppose there will be time later for you to tell me who you are.” The hawkish young man states flatly, watching the door open. From within, a sleight man with receding brown hair and large blue eyes stares up from where he sits on his cot. Slowly, rising to his feet, Edward Ray assess his rescuers. Across the hall, Ricardo Silva moves to the window of his cell, watching the events transpire.

April Silver looks in at Edward, makes a brief beckoning gesture with one hand. "Doctor Ray. If you'd come with us, please? We don't have much time left, so explanations will have to wait." She steps out of the way, begins moving down the corridor to the elevator.

Edward's brows arch, but he rises and walks out to join the little group in the hallway, taking a moment to regard both Reed and Niles with a speculative expression. "I would even venture to suggest it is a pleasant one," he concludes rather jauntily, before following in April's wake. Though as he does he lingers by Ricardo’s door. While Reed and Niles are moving to follow April, Edward discretely keys in the code for Ricardo’s door, then meets the man’s eyes through the window, one finger held conspiratorially to his lips. Ssh

The alarm that begins to sound some fifteen seconds later, just prior to their reaching the elevator in question, is decidedly not so. By then Edward and his rescuers are out of sight, and Ricardo only slips out of his locked cell after that fact.

Hearing the alarms, Ricardo looks around in the hall, wide-eyed in confusion. Then, he turns to flee down a different hall, and out of the vision as it fades away.

“Ricardo Silva escaped that day,” Alice explains, “under the cover of the chaos Edward Ray’s escape caused. The Company never found him, but when you posed the question to us about your past cases, we had another SESA agent — Rhys Bluthner — dig into it more.”

Resting a hand on Cassandra's shoulder, Alice gives it a reassuring squeeze of a job well done. “Ricardo fled, found his family, and lived another year. We determined that he was killed in the 2010 riots preceded by the flash forward event.”

Alice looks back at Ryans, her hand lowering from Cassandra’s shoulder. “Ricardo suffered fatal injuries Protecting his family. But according to Rhys, someone happened upon him, not realizing who he was.” Blue eyes stare intently at Ryans. “Someone who had the ability to ease his pain, and let him spend his last moments with his family.”

Alice looks down to the floor. “Your daughter, Lucille.”

The squeeze on her shoulder is a physical indication that things had gone well. Cassandra nods and lifts her hands to her blindfold, the images blowing away in the copious dust of the freshly exposed level five. The blindfold comes up, amber eyes blinking in the pale light coming in from the door, her handkerchief coming out to daub at her eyes again, a dark fluid collected at the corners, staining the blindfold. “Just let me when you're ready for the next one. I've got several more projections in me.”

She glances to the younger(?) man for a second, gauging his reaction to the revelations that were just shared before getting to her feet, tucking the blindfold into her left pocket to be dealt with later. Here, there isn't much she can say. Just making it out of this place alive was thanks to a string of impossible feats, and to find his family and live for a year? He might have been one of the few trapped in here to experience that luxury.

To hear something is different then seeing it.

Benjamin Ryans straightens as the scene begins, resisting the urge to move closer. This is the most animated he’s been since the came down here. What the women don’t see is the sense of… relief as the man escapes. Turning to follow his route, until he slips outside of it.

He is quiet for a long moment, still looking in the direction the man left, thoughtful…. Listening to Alice Shaw. It is the revelation about his daughter that gets a real reaction, his head jerking over in her direction, blue eyes searching to make sure it is the truth. He huffs a soft chuckle, “Of course.” It felt appropriate that one of his daughters would help with his mess…. Again.

“Good.” Benjamin finally says firmly. “At least he got something. Only wish it could have been long.” He turns back to the cell slowly. “I’m glad to know that they were wrong about him.” There were no other reports that he ever heard of.

“Thank you, Alice.” It’s genuine. It doesn’t lighten the load of a lifetime of doubts and regrets, but it is something.

There’s a look on Alice’s face that says don’t thank me yet, but the words never quite make it out. Instead, she just offers a nod to Ryans and a side-eye to Cassandra. Then, folding that piece of argyle cloth into a pocket, she steps around the two and calls ahead to the workers removing larger pieces of steel-reinforced concrete up ahead. “Is that cell clear yet?”

We’re all good down here!” The worker calls back, waving Alice over. With a look back to Ryans and Cassandra, Alice nods in the direction of the excavation crew and then moves to head to their next destination. The journey isn’t far, moving from Cell Block B to Cell Block A. Passing by a half dozen demolished cells, the sheer capacity the Company once had to detain and disappear people is humbling. It’s no small wonder that history now only looks back on them as traitors and criminals. Whatever good they did, washed away by the tide of history.

When the group reaches their final destination, Alice claps her hands and waves the excavation workers off, sending them back to other areas of the basement. Once she’s certain they’ve all gone, she turns slowly and adjusts the collar of her jacket nervously. “This cell,” Alice motions to a rubble-filled ten by ten cell with what was once a reinforced glass window. “As I have been told, this contained the first detainee of Level 5. What I’m looking for here is an event that would have taken place… sometime between 2004 and 2008, an exchange between the man in this cell and…” Alice retrieves from her pocket an old photograph, faded around the edges. It shows a heavy-set man with no hair and a wispy, white beard. “This man.”

One of Alice’s brows raise slowly, and her head tilts to the side. As she hands the photograph off to Cassandra, her attention turns to Ryans. “Caspar Abraham, deep-intelligence for the Company. He is… was? The single greatest repository of knowledge the Company ever had. We’re fairly certain he died during the Institute purge.” Alice tucks her hands into her pockets, looking to the cell. “Up until now Abraham’s information was unavailable to us, but we know he met the detainee here, and whatever it was they discussed… it could be vital for the future.”

Cassandra falls easily into her role - remaining silent as Alice and Ryans discuss what her ability shows, taking mental notes to share with SESA as soon as she is able to report in. She moves behind the pair, ghosts of the past beckoning her from cells as she passes, flickering into view momentarily as still images inside the cells, causing a few of the more superstitious construction workers to murmur about ghosts before crossing themselves and continuing out of the area as ordered. With a twitch or her eyebrow, the images vanish, like a light switch was turned off, the final goal in sight.

Wordlessly, Cassandra takes the photo in her bare hands, turning to gaze at the image captured in ancient celluloid, nodding to herself. The photo will make it easier. Having something to look for is considerably easier than delving into the great unknown of the past. There’s a momentary flicker of her ability, several shapes flickering around the confines of the cell, forms outside peering in, while multiple shadows start to blur. Looking down at the photo, Cassandra strokes her fingers over it slowly, androplet of Black, like India ink, splattering on the photograph before quickly being wiped away. The photo is handed back with the soft admonishment of “hold this” before the silk blindfold is brought out again, tied tightly around Cassandra's eyes.

The woman takes another slow, shuddering breath before withdrawing what looks like a small silver flask from her breast pocket, taking a quick sip before tucking it back away and taking the photo, settling back against the wall where the shadows seemed to be less. Having a vision move inside of the projector is a little weird for those watching. Crouching down, her knees to her chest, hands clasped in front of her, she begins.

This time, the darkness comes much quicker, the noise of the hallway turning off like the speaker producing the noise is just switched off. A quick look into the hall will show the workers are still there, silent, before they fade into nothingness, her projection rolling in from outside the room like waves, crashing against each other, filling the room with competing images.

The lone resident of this cell, Adam Monroe, fades into view. Stoic, silent. Pacing the cell methodically, like a tiger, a coiled spring with no way to expend the energy contained within. “There….”. Cassandra gestures to the image, frozen in time, gazing with a predatory expression at whoever is behind the door that has just been opened. “Now it's just a matter of finding this…”. She holds up the photo in her left hand, her right reaching out and swiping left, the image moving backward in a blur. Lackadaisically she swipes her right hand, the image slowing from time to time as something of interest appears - usually disagreements with guards seeking samples.

It generally does not end well for the guards. Watching one fly into the room with a tray to stand in front of Adam before pulling a massive syringe out of his forehead is a bit disconcerting, but soon, the white haired gentleman in question starts to appear. Bare echoes, he had only been there once. Disjointed. Sounds three seconds behind the movement of mouths. Middles coming before beginnings.

The photo helps, though. A meeting, of one could call it that, is slowly arranged from component parts. A film being arranged in the right order from juxtaposed parts. “This man….he is incredibly dangerous. There are at least six death echoes that I can feel in this cell alone caused by him…ah.” Her hand slides to the middle. “Here we are. Mrs. Shaw, could you move to the right? I think you'll get a better view from there of the conversation. You can move through the vision to get better views. It won't bother me or them.”

The photograph is glanced at as it passes hands, eyes narrowing as Ben tries to place the face. It is fuzzy at best, but… that isn’t the name that really grabs his attention.

Cassandra’s assessment get a huff of breath, a soft sound of amusement. When Ryans speaks, there is no amusement in the tone, it is flat “I don’t think there is a proper way to explain Adam Monroe, but I guess that will have to do.” Lips press together as he studies the echo of the Company founder.

Arms folds over his chest, head tipping down a little in thought, though his eyes are all for that vision before him and the woman rather interested in it. He could be silently judging… assessing a threat… or simply curious as to the information.

When the vision crystallizes, when the heavy man in a brown coat with a carnation in his lapel comes into view, there's an unusual sinking sensation in the pit of Ryans’ stomach. It feels like he's seen Caspar before, except, he has no such memory.

“Good morning mister Monroe,” Caspar exhales in tired tone, as though this meeting was a rote one. “My name is Mr. Abraham, and I've got just a couple of things I need to take care of here today.

From the other side of the cell door, Adam approaches the viewing slat and slowly tilts his head to the side. Blue eyes square on Caspar. “You're new,” he admits with a look up and down of what he can see of the gray-bearded man. “Come t’clip off another trimming, hmm? Going t’try to grow a new one in a little jar?”

Caspar frowns, sweeping off his brown fedora and holding it to his chest. “Now I can't profess to know what sort of barbarism you’ve experienced down here, Mr. Monroe—

Adam.

“Of course, Adam.” Caspar fishes around in a pocket, producing a shiny new penny from within. He flashes a quick and easy smile, followed by the simple request of, “a penny for your thoughts?”

Adam rolls his eyes so hard he may have done damage to his neck. The blonde man sweeps away from his door and drags his hands down his face, exhaling an exasperated sigh into his palms. “Do come in chap, shoes off though I'd hate for you to track any dirt in.”

After putting his hat back on, Caspar pulls out a magnetic key card and slides it through a reader on the door. The light stays red. He tries again, still red.

“You're got t’tug it to the right a little,” Adam so helpfully asserts. Casper makes a soft ah sound and swipes the card a third time with it angled to the right, and the light turns green with an electronic buzz. Caspar—

The door crashes open as Adam plows through the unlocked entrance. He throws himself at Caspar with hands grasping around his thick neck. Caspar exhales a scream as he flies backwards and down to the floor with Adam straddling him.

“Who was stupid enough to let you down here alone!?” Adam leans in to Caspar, exhaling a ragged growl into the heavier man’a face. “Did you really think I was going to—”

A gunshot goes off, a spray of blood exits the side of Adam’s neck and he gurgles, thrashing to the side and snarling through teeth stained red. Caspar looks up to his right, where Benjamin Ryans stands with a handgun out, leveled at Adam. “Caspar, I told you to wait for us.”

Adam is already up on his feet, the wound at the side of his neck having fully healed. “Benny” Adam murmurs in a cool and slick way. “Got any other trrrrrr— rrr— rr…//” Adam ceases talking, eyes rolling back in his head this time out of involuntary muscle spasm rather than sarcasm. From the hallway behind Ryans an older man slowly approaches, brows furrowed and lips downturned to a frown: Charles Deveaux.

“Mr. Abraham.” Charles moves with a languid stiffness, needing a cane to walk. He visibly looks ill, though struggles to hide it. “I warned you about this one. I would… appreciate it if you'd listen more clearly next time.”

As Ryans helps Caspar up, Charles comes to stand beside him and watches Adam convulsing where he stands. There's an evident look of concentration on Charles’ face. He motions to the door, “Go, Adam.” At that mental command, Adam stumbles and staggers back into his cell like a twitching marionette.

Caspar rubs one hand at his neck, then picks up the penny from the floor. “I'm— sorry, Mr. Deveaux. I got wrapped up in… he seemed so…”

“He gets inside your head,” Ryans explains, a look leveled to Charles. “Without an ability to do that.” Caspar nods to the explanation, bending down to pick up his hat and penny, then looks to Charles.

Charles nods, letting Ryans and Caspar enter Adam’s cell first. Behind them, he pauses to look down at the blood on the floor, then slowly moves in behind them. Adam remains in a catatonic state, spamming and thrashing as he tries to fight Charles’ mental control.

“Caspar,” Charles indicates with a gesture to him, “I'm going to bring to the forefront of Adam’s mind, memories of something called Project Looking Glass. I'm going to need you to collect all of the information that he experiences, and detain it as you do.”

“All of it, sir?”

“Every last word.” Charles closes his eyes, hands braced on the back of his cane. Brows furrow, the corners of his mouth twitch, and Adam’s spasming abruptly stops. Caspar approaches, fishing that penny out of his pocket again. He comes to stand, anxiously, beside Adam and presses the penny into his open palm.

“What am I looking at?” Adam speaks aloud, mumbled and slurred like someone talking in a dream. Caspar closes his eyes, placing a hand on Adam’s forehead. “A window to what, though? Because all I'm seeing is… oh.” Adam’s head lolls to the side. “Arthur, my god, what am I looking at?”

Caspar’s eyes open, rapidly twitching from side to side as though he were seeing or reading something moving incredibly fast in his field of vision. “Never?” Adam’s tone is incredulous. “How is that even possible? Unless…” blonde brows twitch. “If they never escaped Coyote Sands, then… we wouldn't…” Adam’s lips part, slowly. “Arthur. What is this?”

##Caspar exhales a sharp breath and pulls the penny out of Adam’s palm. Charles too breathes a deep sigh and nearly collapses, until Ryans wraps an arm around him until he can steady himself. “Ryans,” Charles says in an unsteady voice. “You're next.”##

The vision loses cohesion there, threads of psychic impression becoming too thin and tenuous to find and father any further. Only then does Alice exhale a slow sigh, eyes averted to the ground. The scene was a revelation to everyone in the room, even Benjamin Ryans, who has no such memories.

How much has the Company taken from him over the years?

There was a comic, a million years ago, that Cassandra used to read. Of a girl seeking the memories that were taken from her. There was the monster of the week, of course, and when the beast was defeated and the memories were inevitably recovered, Cassandra specifically remembered the image of the glowing orbs of memory being placed on a string. By the end of the series, the memories were like a length of pearls, shimmering iridescent with their own internal light, with spaces where memories were due to be added. Blanks where they were plucked from the string by the cruel and thoughtless antagonists.

Perhaps this is a pearl of memory for Ryans, pointing him towards the next one to be unearthed.

She turns her attention to the man from the image, younger looking now than he was then, and even with the blindfold covering her eyes, she just gives off a visceral feeling that she’s looking at him. No, looked through by the dark-haired seer. The images are frozen as she stands, walking towards the image of Ryans and Charles, walking through the fallen Adam, her hands coming up to brush through them, motes of glowing dust scattering like fireflies around her fingers as she touches the images she’s formed. “I can follow this….” Her head tilts towards where she thinks Alice and Ryans stand. With the blindfold hiding her sight and the image projection, she might as well be blind for all she can see of the present. “You will need to help me walk.” This is directed at no-one in particular. “We can follow…them…and see where it leads, assuming the way is clear and assuming the search for Looking Glass took place somewhere around here.”

There is a part of Ryans that isn’t surprised to see himself standing there, but at the same time, the shock rocks him to the core. It made him realize that maybe he had lost more of his time then he originally thought. Alice will see the deep furrow of his brow as he thinks back, eyes focused on nothing.

The gaps… It could always be waved off as old age or the natural selection that the brain makes for what you retain; but how much was really lost. Anyone who works for the Company knows that they have had memories wiped at some point or another. It is a fact of life, but everytime he recovers a piece of the past, it was just as jarring.

Cassandra's voice cuts through his thoughts like a razor blade, bringing him back to the present and the frozen scene before him. How much time?

“No.” Ryans surprises himself by saying it, refusing a chance to know more about a lost moment. Still something at the back of his mind has him saying it. “Charles was one of the good ones. If…” he trails off turning to look at Alice Shaw. “If he is coving up the existence of this Project Looking Glass, then it means it’s bad. Clearly, I knew about it. I trusted Charles and clearly I did it willingly, which means this thing is bad.

“That said, if she wants to see…” His head inclines to the older woman across from him, across the images that are possible harbingers of something to be concerned about. “Are you certain you want to walk down that path, Alice?” There is no judgement in his tone, no anger. It is a simple question, one that holds concern for all involved. However, she also knows that he understands the need to do just that; walk a path that probably should have been left well alone.

Alice narrows her eyes and looks in the direction Cassandra was headed in. She tips her head to the side, brows furrowed. “I don't think they will discuss it after this. If they did before, I'm not sure where it when it would have been. That man, Caspar… he steals memories, removes them from people and places them inside of objects.”

Though on the thought of that, Alice crosses her arms over her chest. “Caspar turned on the Company and was swept up by the Institute. We’re fairly certain he's dead, but the memories imprinted into his objects would persist. Normally that's useless without Caspar, but now…”

“Well, this is what I was asked to consult on for your office. Director Zimmerman will want a full report of this fed up to her directly.” Alice’s implications that this all came on the directive of SESA director Claudia Zimmerman means it bypasses Executive Director Kenner and the rest of the chain of command.

Running one hand across her chin, Alice considers Ryans, then Cassandra. “Let’s let this sit for now. We know Caspar gathered information on this project. SESA is trying to make sure there's no loose ends on old Institute projects still active in the world. This one is likely a dead end for now.

Cassandra nods, taking a short breath and exhaling, the paused vision slowly fading into the background, the world outside returning - first in sound, the workers in the background still clearing cells, and then with the work lights set up to illuminate the inside of the cell proper. “Just let me know.” she says as she removes her blindfold, wiping her eyes with it before tucking it back into her jacket pocket, looking none the worse for wear for the images she just projected. “Director Zimmerman was quite clear when she assigned me to this project that I was to offer any assistance that I could. I’ll get my report to her within the hour of what was witnessed and will await further instructions. If any items are discovered that were positively owned by Mr. Caspar, retrieving the memories from them should be relatively easy for me, since his memory implantation might work in a way that I can broadcast.” She pauses for a moment. “Just to be clear, I trust that this is a sensitive matter, and information relating to my discoveries should not be discussed outside of a small group of vetted individuals?”

From what they can tell, Benjamin Ryans looks satisfied by that decision. Letting out the breath he has been holding waiting. The Company’s past is a path you have to tread lightly. He had been honest when he stated that he trusted Charles and would have willingly allowed the memories to be taken.

He thinks anyway.

While he had one answer, so many more questions had been presented to him. How much time? How many memories? It made him painfully aware of those large holes.

The question from the SESA agent, has him half turning to look her way; her only answer is a short nod of his head. Ben, of course, knows the drill.

“Extremely sensitive,” Alice concurs, threading one piece of hair that had fallen loose behind an ear. “Keep this information to yourselves. That comes straight from the Director.” Though at that, Alice offers one last look into the rubble-filled cell that once held Adam Monroe. “For your own safety.”

The secrets the Company held were vast ones, webs within webs that kept information bound in tight cells that often knew little of what the other was doing. When the Institute came and claimed that legacy, they also claimed the tangle of secrets that came with it. Now SESA is the inheritor of that patchwork legacy, and the efforts to undo the evil of the past means understanding the forgotten and walking through the Company’s maze of moral relativism that justified their actions.

But as any student of mythology knows, every labyrinth has it's Minotaur.


Kowloon Bay

Hong Kong, China

8:55 am


A horn cuts across the foggy water of Kowloon Bay. Gulls soar overhead in the radiant early morning light, and a yacht anchored in the harbor casts a white silhouette against the glittering backdrop of mainland Hong Kong’s skyline. Seated in a deck chair, maroon dress shirt mostly unbuttoned, a well-manicured but tired looking man nursed a drink in one hand. The peach liqueur is specked by fresh raspberries floating in the drink along with two frozen grapes. A heavier level of bright green midori is settled at the bottom.

“I appreciate your day-drinking,” a dark-haired woman in a loosely belted black robe comments as she pads up barefoot behind his chair. “It sets a certain tone, non? Très relaxé, Adam.” Curling her lips into a smile, she folds her arms over the back of the chair and leans down to look at the phone in Adam’s other hand. “An American number?”

“Investments are turning up dividends,” Adam states in a cool tone, turning the screen off and setting it down on the arm of the chair. “An old chap back west has a lead on Caspar Abraham. Nothing to worry too much about yet, Siobhan. But soon, yeah.”

Slinking around the chair, the Frenchwoman comes to sit on the chair’s arm beside the phone. One bare leg is crossed over the other. “Ma lumière, must you be so frustrating with me?” She reaches up and runs fingers through short, blonde hair.

“All in good time, you know what I say about patience.” He smiles a Cheshire smile, but it never reaches his eyes. “Now, be a good assistant and go below decks and wake up that freeloader?”

Adam’s smile fades, replaced with a more serious look that has Siobhan slowly slipping off of the arm of the chair. “Because I think it's high time I get some answers about what happened to little miss LeRoux…”

“…whether Joy likes it or not.”


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